Monday, September 28, 2009

My whiskey tasting - part 3 of 3

After going through all of the other major varieties, my whiskey tasting group finished the evening tasting a couple of very different single malt Scotches:

Selection #7
Glenmorangie Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 10 Years Old
Glenmorangie Distillery, Scotland
43% vol. / 86 proof
  • Back story: Glenmorangie is a classic Highland malt: a delicate, fragrant, highly drinkable spirit of subtle complexity. The Glenmorangie distillery’s secret is hand-crafting of their own casks from carefully selected American white oak.

  • Nose: bright and fruity; apple cider; one taster said it smelled "like an apple orchard."

  • Taste: A wonderful cornucopia of tastes dance across the palette: crisp apples are here as expected, but also citrus, almonds, sourdough bread, spices and a barely noticeable hint of smoke.

  • Finish: Crisp yet complex; fresh fruit yields to oak.

  • Food pairing: A square of 72% cacao Ghirardelli dark chocolate complemented this whiskey very well; the bittersweet chocolate comes alive in the mouth, and the next sip of whiskey takes on a new, intriguing quality. The 60% cacao Ghirardelli was also good, but did not suit the whiskey quite as well.

  • Final verdict: This is a supremely easy to drink single malt. Those in our group that were not accustomed to single malts still struggled with its complexity, but if you like Scotch this one strikes a nice balance. Four stars **** (recommended).
Selection #8
Ardbeg Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky, 10 Years Old

Ardbeg Distillery, Scotland
46% vol. / 92 proof
  • Back story: Ardbeg hails from the island of Islay (EYE-luh), which is known for its smoky, heavily peated single malts. Along with its Islay neighbors Laphroaig and Lagavulin, it is has one of the most intense flavors of any Scotch. Give the aroma of this time to sink in before sipping, and prepare yourself for a full-on assault of complex flavors. This whiskey is not for the faint of heart, but can be extraordinarily rewarding for those who give it time.

  • Nose: "liquid campfire" is how I describe Ardbeg and its Islay cousins. There is a sweetness behind the smoke, though, as well as a bit of saltiness.

  • Taste: it tastes like it smells! Sweet but sooty, like barbecue sauce that has crisped and burned on the edge of the meat. Hidden underneath is sweet cookie and spice. And smoke, smoke, smoke.

  • Finish: Smoke, of course, then salt and baked fruit, a long stretch of grassy peat, and finally a breeze of salty sea air.

  • Food pairing: I brought out some "Scottish style" smoked salmon to go with this, and it was a match made in heaven. Whiskey actually pairs very well with fish in general. (The pairing of Japanese single malt and sushi is inspired.) Because this whiskey was so smokey, the salmon didn't even taste smoked, but it did taste absolutely delicious!

  • Final verdict: I had previously tried the 16-year old Lagavulin (the king of smoke) and the 10-year old Laphroaig (the king of peat). This is a nice balance between those two, and is much sweeter than I expected. It is an acquired taste, but if you like peated whiskey, I strongly recommend the Ardbeg. Four stars **** (recommended).
Bonus Selection
The Macallan Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 18 Years Old
The Macallan Distillery, Scotland
43% vol. / 86 proof
  • Back story: After we had finished tasting the eight whiskeys I had selected, I pulled aside the seasoned whiskey drinkers for a special treat. Aged exclusively in European oak casks seasoned with sherry, the 18-year old Macallan is widely considered the standard when it comes to single malts. Macallan is one of the most detail-oriented distillers, and it shows in the results of this incredible whiskey.

  • Nose: deep, rich, oakey and sweet. You can detect the sherry, as well as fruitcake, plums and raisins.

  • Taste: smooth and incredibly deep. The sherry is here and so is the strong presence of the malt and the wood. Grapes and figs emerge on top of a swirl of other complex flavors. One of the tasters called it: "overwhelming - in a good way!"

  • Finish: gloriously long - take a small sip and enjoy it for minutes afterwards. Faint citrus notes appear (tangerine and orange peel), as well as cocoa and plum. Nothing overwhelms on the finish: it just lingers and evolves magnificently.

  • Food pairing: for God's sake, don't ruin your palette with food if you're drinking this!

  • Final verdict: This is heavenly, and still the best whiskey I've ever tasted. Even the seasoned whiskey drinker that doesn't usually like single malt Scotch gave this one its due. It is an undeniable classic. Five stars ***** (must have).

In the end, my whiskey tasting was a success and we tasted some fine drams. Again, though, it had more to do with the people than the whiskey, so a special thanks to all my guests. I'm looking forward to the next one!


  1. So, being a cheap-ass bastard (CAB), how much do these whiskey's cost? If you took cost into account, what is the "best buy"?

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